Traditional healers and the “Fast-Track” HIV response: is success possible without them?
The rapid scale-up of effective HIV prevention strategies is a central theme of the post-2015 health and development agenda. All major global HIV and AIDS funders have aligned their policies and plans to achieve sharp reductions in new HIV infections and reach epidemic control by 2030. In these “fast-track” plans, increased antiretroviral treatment coverage and the attainment of viral suppression are pivotal, and there is firm recognition of the need for countries to mobilise more domestic resources and build stronger community clinic systems. There is little in these bold plans, however, to suggest that the now 30-year-old call by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other organisations to establish systematic collaborations with the traditional health sector will finally be heeded. In the context of sub-Saharan Africa’s HIV epidemic, a significant body of literature demonstrates the critical role that traditional healers can play in improving the success of health programmes, including those for HIV prevention. This paper provides a brief history of collaboration with traditional healers for HIV followed by a description of several successful collaborations and discussion of key elements for success. We argue that the traditional health sector is a major resource that has yet to be sufficiently mobilised against HIV. As we shift from a short-term HIV response to a longer-term and more sustainable response, there is an urgent need to accelerate efforts to leverage and partner with the hundreds of thousands of traditional health practitioners who are already providing health services in communities. Failure to better attune our work to the medical pluralism of communities affected by HIV will continue to hinder HIV programming success and help assure that ambitious post-2015 HIV prevention and control goals are not realised.
Keywords: collaboration, HIV/AIDS, sub-Saharan Africa, traditional healers